What? I Can Write! Keep it Clear

“A man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it.”—Samuel Johnson

Keep It Clear

Clarity is a cardinal principle of effective writing, whether you are writing to persuade, inform, instruct, or entertain. If your aim is persuasion, you must write clearly enough so that your reader understands your argument even if, in the end, he disagrees with it. Informational writing, such as journalism or historical accounts, must be clear so that readers come away with an accurate knowledge of the circumstances and facts of a story. The same is true for instructional writing. If you want to impart knowledge, teach a skill, or give instruction for performing a certain procedure or process, clarity is essential. If your instructions are unclear, no learning will occur. Finally, when writing to entertain with an engaging story, you want your reader to visualize your fictional world clearly in her mind; the sights, sounds and smells of the seashore, say, or the physical features of your characters. Words are your only tools with which to create these images in your readers’ minds, so learn to use them well.

As I said before, good writers are never lazy about language. Some writers work best by rattling off a first draft as quickly as possible, leaving revision and refinement for later, while others write slowly and painstakingly, editing and revising as they go. Either way, all good writers share at least one common trait: they labor—sometimes agonize—over every word and every sentence, writing and rewriting, revising and then revising again, refusing to release their work to their readers until it says exactly what they want it to say. Writing that seems effortless when read almost never is; the writer has worked very hard to make it read that way. Revision is an essential key to clarity; it always improves a manuscript. So don’t take shortcuts. Keep it clear.

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